A Look At Innovation and IPR

Patent Fights Are a Legacy of MP3’s Tangled Origins

Microsoft says it was doing the right thing: paying a German rights holder $16 million to license the MP3 audio format, the foundation of the digital music boom. Then an American jury ruled that Microsoft had failed to pay another MP3 patent holder, and slapped it with a $1.52 billion judgment.

But the MP3 toll gates do not end there.

The confusion stems from the number of companies and institutions — including Thomson, Royal Philips Electronics and AT&T (through Bell Labs, now part of Alcatel-Lucent) — that worked to create the MP3 standard almost two decades ago. The patent claims of those and others are increasingly being backed up by aggressive enforcement efforts, including lawsuits and even seizures of music players by customs authorities.

[…] “A common misunderstanding is that Fraunhofer invented MP3,” said John M. Desmarais, the lead lawyer in the Microsoft case for Alcatel-Lucent, which is based in Paris. Though Fraunhofer was involved in the research that led to the MP3 standard issued in 1993, he said, “Bell Labs had already developed the fundamental technology” in the mid-1980s, “before Fraunhofer even came on the scene.”

He added that “I don’t mean to downplay other contributions of other companies.” Many other companies’ ideas were also incorporated into the final MP3 standard, Mr. Desmarais said, but that standard was largely based on work done at Bell Labs before it ever began collaborating with Fraunhofer.

“MP3 has a lot of parts to it,” and “two of the key parts are owned by Bell Laboratories,” he said, but “that doesn’t mean that other people don’t have an ownership interest.”

[…] For those confused about where to turn to obtain an MP3 license for a new device or piece of software, [the chairman of the MPEG group, Leonardo Chiariglione,] offers little solace. “The rule is that the MPEG working group is not allowed to consider patent issues in our technical work, so there is nothing I can do about it,” he said, “even though I consider the situation in general not positive for the wide adoption of the standard, which is what I have been working on.”

Makin’ Lists

Once again, calls for lots of collection without an appreciation for the ways in which, once collected, such data might be used. After all, if the state is going to sell driver’s license information, what might be next? Justice Department takes aim at image-sharing sites | CNET News.com

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been lobbying Congress for mandatory data retention, calling it a “national problem that requires federal legislation.” Gonzales has convened earlier private meetings to pressure industry representatives. And last month, Republicans introduced a mandatory data retention bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would let the attorney general dictate what must be stored and for how long.

Supporters of the data retention proposal say it’s necessary to help track criminals if police don’t immediately discover illegal activity, such as child abuse. Industry representatives respond by saying major Internet providers have a strong track record of responding to subpoenas from law enforcement.

[…] Often invoking terrorism and child pornography as justifications, the administration has argued that Internet providers must install backdoors for surveillance and has called for routers to be redesigned for easier eavesdropping. President Bush’s electronic surveillance program, which was recently modified, has drawn an avalanche of lawsuits.

“Virtual Strip Searches”

A very interesting exploration of a very weird concept — and a call for the kind of care about privacy that is needed in many more contexts that just this one: Invasion of the naked body scanners (Note that the NYTimes article cited in the piece can be found here — New Airport X-Rays Scan Bodies, Not Just Bags)

Are you up for this? Are you ready to get naked for your country?

This is no joke. The government needs to look under your clothes. […]

The main stumbling block has been privacy. The ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have fought backscatters at every turn, calling them a “virtual strip search.” It’s a curious phrase. The purpose of a strip-search is the search. Stripping is just a means. Virtual inspections achieve the same end by other means. They don’t extend the practice of strip-searching. They abolish it.

[…] Hallowell volunteered for this notoriety. But what happened to her mustn’t happen to others. In the age of body scans, privacy means keeping your name, your face, and your nude image apart. That job doesn’t end at the security gate; it begins there. Will your scan leak? “Images will not be printed, stored or transmitted,” TSA swears on its Web site. Directly above that assurance, the agency has posted four nude pictures—”actual images shown to the Transportation Security Officer during the backscatter process.” And you thought airport screeners had no sense of humor.

Enough with the fairy tales. We lost our innocence when the planes hit the towers. Now we’re losing our modesty. If we’re going to be ogled, at least protect us from being Googled.

Service, or Sales?

The Au Bon Pain near my office appears to offer this, but they are really poaching off the MIT network. It makes the place an MIT student hangout, and they don’t even have to pay for the network access! However, I agree that it’s an idea that’s coming. I personally see no gret benefit to going to place that just will charge me a bit more, especially given that the rates are preposterously high. So, Panera Bread is on my list of places to look for when I travel!! What Starbucks Can Learn From the Movie Palace – New York Times

When Starbucks and McDonald’s decided to exact a toll from their customers as they set up their in-store Wi-Fi networks, they created a confusion of conflicting signals: how welcome can one feel when staring at a meter that is running?

The restaurants’ predecessors, the movie theater owners of almost a century ago, understood that not every amenity, every service, every offering must have a separate price tag attached. The owners and the architects sought to give theatergoers an environment that was pleasing in all aspects. Marcus Loew, the head of a nationwide chain, once said, “We sell tickets to theaters, not movies.”

Panera Bread, which has more than 900 Wi-Fi-equipped sandwich and bakery stores, has set itself apart from its contemporaries by upholding the old-fashioned spirit of those bygone theater owners who never stinted in their efforts to make public space inviting.

The grand movie palaces did not have to show the revenue-enhancing potential of an ornamental gold cornice or plaster pilaster. So, too, at Panera Bread, where its fireplaces do not have to demonstrate a monetary payback to justify their place in the stores.

Neither does Wi-Fi. Neil Yanofsky, Panera’s president, said that no cost accounting had been done on its service, which is free. The rationale relates to ambience: “We want our customers to stay and linger.”

Win Some, Lose Some

Probing the rationality and internal consistency of the patent system: Judge rules for Microsoft in Alcatel-Lucent suitpdf

The ruling made late Thursday comes one week after a jury found that the world’s largest software maker infringed on audio patents held by Alcatel-Lucent and ordered the company to pay $1.52 billion in damages.

U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster in San Diego dismissed all of Alcatel-Lucent’s claims in a summary judgment, meaning that the jury trial set to begin on March 19 will not take place. Alcatel-Lucent said it plans to appeal the ruling.

In Case You Missed This Stink At Black Hat

ACLU, Outrage Fill in the Silence at Black Hat RFID Session

After receiving a letter threatening possible patent litigation that caused IOActive to cancel his Feb. 28 Black Hat briefing, IOActive R&D director Chris Paget did give his Hacking RFID talk after all.

Sort of.

With the ACLU on hand.

[…] In a talk with IOActive’s Joshua Pennell after the briefing, he told me that just to go in and investigate whether there’s any possibility that IOActive infringed on HID’s patent would have cost $30,000 in legal fees right out of the gate. If the situation ever reached litigation, going into court would cost between $150,000 and $1 million.

Just to reiterate, just to make sure we all understand exactly what this means to anybody who wants to share vulnerability information with security professionals, even if that information was published in a white paper two years ago (as IOActive’s material was) and is available online in multiple sources: Even if completely innocent, a small company or individual security researcher can be forced into silence by the mere threat of copyright [sic] infringement.

The presentation material in question relates to the security of RFID, a technology that the ACLU proved years ago could be subverted easily by pass-by readers. And understand one other thing: The only reason that IOActive planned to use HID technology as a (very generally outlined) example is that IOActive shares a building with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and was curious to know just how good that building’s security was.

[…] The ACLU’s reason to be concerned is that, first of all, there have been multiple breaches of RFID-enabled passports and other identification documents, including British and Dutch e-passports.

“The ACLU is interested in getting out the facts,” [tha ACLU’s Nicole] Ozer said. “For less than $100, with parts off the Internet—and that’s the up number—Chris got them for about $20—[you can assemble a device] to read RFID. [That includes] RFID in identification documents, for secure buildings like the FEMA building which IOActive is in. [The government] just spent over $2 million in readers. ACLU showed compromising of that last year.

“From an ACLU standpoint, [we’re concerned] in terms of privacy tracking, personal safety and financial security,” she continued. “You can get a list of who was at what place at what time. [RFID doesn’t] just transmit a number. It can transmit anything encoded: name, address, Social Security number. Dutch and British passports have already been compromised. People might not want their name and address on [RFID-enabled documents]. Think of a woman walking down the street alone—would she want her name, her address, broadcast? RFID undermines the goal of trying to improve security.”

It’s imperative to educate the government and public about the vulnerabilities if somebody’s going to use RFID in a public document, Ozer said.

Here Comes WestWorld?

These wireless robots try not to act remotepdf

Walt Disney Imagineering this week debuted its latest, cutting-edge creation: free-roaming, interacting audio-animatronic Muppets capable of “seeing” and “talking” to tourists — and without a human puppeteer in sight.

Disney’s most advanced robotic creation to date makes the costumed, mute Winnie the Poohs and Donald Ducks seem like felt-covered relics, though Disney executives are quick to reassure that the beloved, autograph-signing cast isn’t going anywhere.

“This is an incredibly compelling and powerful way to experience the characters,” said Bruce Vaughn, vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering’s research and development division.

“They are fully aware of the people in their presence and can call you by name. It is a 100% live experience.”

[…] One boy walked away with this question: “Do you think there’s someone down there talking, Dad?” His father shrugged.

Never wanting to divulge their secrets, Imagineers waved it off as “Disney magic” and “pixie dust.” In reality, a live puppeteer who can see and hear everything reacts from afar.

Westworld at IMDB

A Field Test of the “Long Tail” Hypothesis

Google Courts Small YouTube Deals

Google has been frustrated in its efforts to reach comprehensive deals with major studios and networks to put their video on YouTube. Meanwhile, it is forming partnerships with hundreds of smaller media companies that see value — or at least a valuable experiment — in contributing to the site.

[…] Industry analysts say it is far easier for YouTube to persuade small media companies to license their content than it is to get NBC or Viacom, two of Google’s vocal critics, to give up control of their most-prized content and the advertising revenue associated with it.

“Smaller guys want mass distribution and are willing to face the risk of copyright infringement for access to this huge audience,” said Allen Weiner, an analyst at Gartner. “It is a relatively low-risk deal for them.”

Still, there are signs that courting small media players may be paying off for YouTube. In the two weeks after YouTube acceded to Viacom’s demand that it take down more than 100,000 clips from Viacom properties like MTV and Comedy Central, traffic on the site nonetheless increased by 14 percent, according to Hitwise, an Internet research firm.

RealID Fight Brewing

DHS Confirms Real ID Act Regulations Coming; States Rebel

Events at the state and federal level are converging around the Real ID Act, as a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security confirmed Feb. 28 that regulations outlining technology mandates could be handed down as early as March 1.

At the same time, as many as 38 states, under a coalition formed by Missouri Representative Jim Guest, have confirmed that they will rebel against the act through legislation in their own states.

See also Real ID Act postponed two yearspdf